Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Good morrow to you, magistrate!

For my birthday I got a couple of Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee novels. I'm reading one of them now, The Chinese Bell Murders.

Dee is loosely based on a real person, a magistrate active in the Tang Dynasty. And in fact before van Gulik he had already been subject of proto-mystery novels during the Ming Dynasty. This was a character van Gulik was obviously fond of working with.

One of the more interesting aspects of the character is how much he relishes playing the bad cop. The plot would actually be at home in any number of contemporary TV cop shows: a scholar candidate - grad student, basically - carries on an affair with the virginal daughter of a small businessman, and becomes the prime suspect when she's raped and murdered. The judge expresses a loud disgust with his behavior. It's sincere enough, but he doesn't mistake one kind of guilt for another. His sternness is real but also a tool to find the truth.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Stealth heat

Strange thing. A couple of hours I was home and watching TV. It felt like there was a chill in the air. Nothing serious, just enough of a dip to make the ceiling fan seem like a misplaced run, much less AC.

Then the heat climbed again. I don't know, or Mother Nature is trying to get my attention.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tha's all, folks


Some cultural artifacts also function as anxiety dreams. This cartoon is one of them. Why is there a lever in some room whose only function is to end the world? Why is this room so insecure a sad clown and his dumb dog can get in? How is it the clown can bury his head in the dirt and come up with a severed demon head in place of his own?

I can't explain it, but it feels true on some level.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Fridaying



Well, if nothing else it looks like I'm headed back into the world of weekends meaning something. Why not celebrate with a little Ladytron?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Welcome to the Passive-Aggressive Arms

There's a new hotel being built in Providence. I forget the exact chain right now, but it's a lesser known imprint of a brand you know. The plot it's being built on is about the area of a single hotel suite. That's the entire plot, by the way. It doesn't look like they'll have any grass around the place. What they will have is cars, because it's an island in the middle of a high traffic intersection. I'm thinking this will be the place businesses will put up executives whom they want to quit and who just aren't taking the hint.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What's in the box


Joseph Cornell, known for his little boxes, was associated with the surrealist group between the wars. This is an interesting circumstance, because nothing in his past made it obvious he'd fall in with an avant garde. In fact he was a self-taught artist and more than a little shy. So he came into it honestly. His art just grew out of who he was.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Behind the wheel

Okay, so I just finally watched Taxi Driver all the way through. That is one beautiful movie. I mean, I can't imagine that it did much for New York's tourism industry (they survived) but the colors and the camera movements are gorgeous. Sounds beautiful too. It's basically Bernard Herrmann's last score, and he gives it a classic noirish romanticism.

Robert De Niro is phenomenal as Travis Bickle, of course, a social misfit despite his youthful beauty. There's not really a weak performance in the movie. Harvey Keitel could have disappeared after this one. He plays a pimp whose star attraction is a tween, he's screwing her himself, and manipulating her besides. All of his scenes are hard to watch. But his career survived, because he's just that good.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Believe in you later, alligator

I read a Harlan Ellison story this evening that ties into folklore about alligators in the New York sewer. This has to be one of the sillier urban legends out there. Just try flushing a baby alligator down the toilet, or better yet, don't. If you still have both hands and manage to pull the handle, then still the only thing you'll manage to accomplish is blocking your own pipes.

On t'other hand, I can see why people flock to this one. It's colorful. We might have a need to credit florid situations, or at least keep them in mind.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

H2. Oh.

It can be hard to remember to stay hydrated in the winter. Or rather it can be hard to force yourself to do so. Cold water is hard to get down because it hurts your throat. Even if the water isn't that cold it's not something you crave.

Summer is a different story. You always want to drink something cold. Not necessarily ice cold, but if a glass of water is ice cold when you take it out of the fridge, it won't stay so for long. In fact before too long the water will be lukewarm, so you definitely want to down it before that.

There are a lot of downsides to hot weather, so you have to look on the bright side as well.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The big block party

Some things seem unlikely candidates for nostalgia, and Brutalist architecture is among them. A severe and forbidding style characterized by huge geometrical structures, it faced criticism from all corners. I have a random memory of WKRP in Cincinnati, of all things. Bailey leads a drive to save examples of Art Deco architecture, which does exist in Cincinnati, and credits it with being the last attempt to bring beauty to the buildings of the city. The implicit rebuke to Brutalism is pretty clear. Then there was Tom Wolfe, who did a whole book - From Bauhaus to Our House - about how it subverted everything good about America.

And yet people are again embracing the Brutalist style, both in the US and elsewhere, and while I'm an agnostic on the subject I can see why. On the aesthetic level its determination not to be too much can be a little much, especially if it's everywhere. But it's a remnant of a time when cities were for everyone. These structures were made with the working class in mind. With urban rents rising catastrophically, more precious buildings now being erected for one percent, and the suburbs/exurbs as faceless as they've ever been, that inclusion counts for a lot. This was once the face of the future, albeit not a future everyone embraced. What does the future look like now?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Last of the red hot brothers

There was at least one Marx Brothers movie I hadn't seen up till now, and that's Love Happy. It's their last film together, and generally thought to be their weakest. Sad to say, this assessment isn't wrong.

The plot, which doesn't seem to be anyone's top priority, concerns a struggling stage musical whose director and male star hopes to take to Broadway. They have one of their circle (Harpo) shoplift food from them. He lifts a can of sardines from one of the countless delis which double as fences for hot jewelry. The can contains Romanov diamonds that a private investigator (Groucho) has been hired to find, and a femme fatale grabs up Harpo while an inept mentalist (Chico) holds off the play's creditors.

The main trouble is that this isn't really a Marx Brothers movie, not one where they're all together for much of the time. It's mainly Harpo's show, with Chico getting a few key scenes and Groucho mostly limited to narrator duty. I'm not sure that the idea of a Harpo-centric movie even works, since he was always best in short, intense doses. By 1950 he had lost some steps, too, with some of his physical humor achieved through undercranking and other special effects. Things do pick up at the end when Groucho can finally join Harpo in the action.

The cast of Love Happy the musical within the movie basically means that there's a coed army in the unfunny Zeppo role, except that where he was tied into their rhythms they're just kind of flailing on their own. The exception is Marion Hutton, nearly-as-manic sister of Betty Hutton, who has fun and gets a troubling but entertaining pro-child abuse song number.

As I said, when the three brothers are finally united there's more fun to be had. But they're off their game. Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera suddenly seem like a long time ago. Really I wish they'd kept making movies after this, but figured out a new way to use their strengths together.

Among those strengths: Groucho has a real mustache now, which is nice.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Caterpillars: Not the cool Alice kind

Everywhere, there are caterpillars. Mostly black, with a few light brown spots on the back. They look like bits of rubber tubing, cut out of machines and just barely animated. And they're everywhere, which is a little freaky because you get leery about leaving stuff on the ground. Also I'm almost positive that they're gypsy moth larvae, so that's something we'll have to brace for later in the summer and early fall.

The caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland is kind of a paradox. Smokes a hookah and generally seems very worldly, even though he's basically an insect baby.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mallet good!


I was looking for unusual covers involving vibes because... well, I just was. This actually isn't that weird. The song in its original form is downtempo and melancholic. They capture the mood well, though. Good team.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

As you recall

People seem to remember things in a way that makes them look good. Some do this more than others. It's not entirely a bad thing. As Eliot said, "humankind cannot bear very much reality." But it can have unfortunate effects. Put yourself in the center too much and it becomes impossible to appreciate what others see.

One red flag? Heavy reliance on "Then I sad/So I said" punch lines. I've heard people recount conversations they had with me, and the way they tell it I didn't say anything, or just set them up to deliver a zinger. Everybody likes having a "drop the mic" moment, but that's not all of what life is.

All at once, by the way, cool nights are something to look forward to, not just something we're stuck with.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Daxo-gold


Submitted for your approval... The daxophone. A tuned slab of wood, it can look like a wooden bat'leth sword you'd use in a middle school play about Klingons. When bowed, it sounds alternately like a whale, Chewbacca, and a baritone sax. And it's the primary instrument on this track. Which I'm not positive I love, but it does gain points for uniqueness.